If it’s NASA, they must be using Amiga!

Seeing a documentary earlier this week on the incredible voyage that the Voyager spacecraft both have undertaken, it struck me that these 2 spacecraft are still operational and sending us valuable data about our Solar system as they are hurtling now through interstellar space, some 35 years after launch.
Just think about it, 35 years on and they’re still operational… and according to NASA, they’ll probably have enough life in them to keep sending us data till 2025… and even then they’ll continue flying through the infinite space, carrying Carl Sagan’s golden disks.

I wonder if a spacecraft with today’s technology would hold out for more than 50 years… I don’t think so and if it did, it would be either by chance rather than by design (and hence price). Just look at today’s TVs and compare them to the old tubes… I still have an old TV sitting here that works like a charm and I wonder if my LCD screen will get to the same age…
Then again, if it did, it’s probably because the parts that made up the new TV are from a more expensive brand than the one it was sitting next to in the shop and which was half the price.

Some things though did outperform any other system and were designed to last. And all this at a very reasonable price. A striking example of this is for instance the use of Amiga computers at NASA.
When you think about NASA, the thing that springs to mind is high-tech, state-of-the-art equipment, best of the best basically.
But best of the best and state-of-the-art usually, if not always, mean high price… but in the 90s something special came along that could provide the best in class technology at a very affordable price and that was the Commodore Amiga.

In an interview dating back to 1999, Gary Jones, principal systems engineer for NASA’s software systems at Cape Canaveral puts the quality of the Amiga this way:
“It just turned out that it was a good machine (the Amiga). The things that make a machine good for playing games also tend to make it good for processing and displaying data, because you’ve got some of the same problems. You need a very efficient, very fast operating system, and the Amiga has that and very little overhead too. That’s what makes it nice; we don’t load down the system running the overhead; we can just process the data.”

From a price perspective, he adds that apparently NASA couldn’t believe that a system as cheap as the Amiga could be so powerful and reliable:
“If it’s not a PC, NASA gives us a lot of grief when we try to buy anything to go with the Amiga. They want us to buy PCs and run Windows 95 and NT. We keep trying to tell them it’s not fast enough so they tell us to buy DEC Alphas. We tell them it’s too expensive. They don’t like the Amiga; it doesn’t cost enough.“

An Amiga displaying live data from an orbiting Space Shuttle

And the Amiga, above all, was a very reliable system, or how else could you trust several parts of the operations of spacecraft like the Atlas-Centaurs, Delta II and Delta III, a couple different models of the Titan and even the Space Shuttle!

Credit also goes to the people at Commodore, who were, as NASA employees put it, amazing in the level of co-operation (and one of the reasons they didn’t go the Mac route):
“And Commodore was easy to work with back then. When we asked for documentation, they sent us a stack of documentation about four feet high. They were willing to tell us everything about their machine. Since we had to design some custom hardware to go inside, it really helped to know exactly how everything worked.”

The Amiga line at NASA lasted until 2004 and eventually decommissioned in 2006, another testament to the great products Commodore gave us.


(quotes/screenshots are from the 1999 interview by Amiga Atlanta)

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3 Responses to If it’s NASA, they must be using Amiga!

  1. That is so amazing that NASA used Commodore Amiga’s until 2006. I love the picture showing the NASA property sticker.

    Like you I’ve got tube TV’s and a handful of Commodore monitors that are still working great 25+ years later, however I’ve gone through a few modern TV’s in just a few years. As the saying goes, they don’t build things like they use to.

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